The comital military retinue in the reign of Edward I

The comital military retinue in the reign of Edward I

By Andrew Spencer

Historical Research, Vol.83:219 (2010)

Abstract: This article offers a detailed examination of the military retinues of the earls during Edward I’s wars in the twelve-nineties and early thirteen-hundreds. While work has been done on the English armies in the Hundred Years’ War, military retinues in Edward I’s reign, the first for which voluminous records survive, have been largely neglected. The article discusses the sources available, analyses the various ways in which the earls created their military followings and argues that continuity of service was much greater than has previously been imagined. Such findings have important implications both for studies of the nobility in the late thirteenth century and for work on military retinues in the Hundred Years’ War.

Introduction: From the outbreak of war with France in 1294 until Edward I’s death in July 1307, the English fought thirteen campaigns in Wales, Scotland, Gascony and Flanders. This contrasted with the first twenty-two years of the reign when just three campaigns took place, and meant that, to an unprecedented extent, a significant proportion of the most influential men in England were involved in regular military activity. Continual service in the king’s wars forced the magnates to recruit large numbers of men to serve with them more frequently than ever before. A bureaucratic change among the chancery clerks means that, for the first time, we are able to identify the names of many of those recruited by the magnates, and it provides us with the opportunity of forming a partial, if frustratingly incomplete, picture of how these military retinues were created.

In his early work, K. B. McFarlane had regarded the wars of Edward I as the key catalyst in the development of the indentured retainer, a view that he and others subsequently revised, coming instead to see retaining as something driven by lords’ need for peacetime service. Having shown that there was little connection between military retinues and peacetime affinities, later medieval historians have tended to focus on the activities of these peacetime or domestic baronial affinities, often within studies of particular counties or regions, and have not looked as much as they might have at the military retinues of the later Hundred Years’ War. Although much valuable work has been done on English armies in the fifteenth century, particularly by Anne Curry and Christopher Allmand, the inner workings of military retinues have not been thoroughly investigated.

The reasons for this general focus on domestic activity are not hard to find. The nature and volume of the evidence available to fourteenth- and fifteenth-century historians has allowed them to work with a broader sense of locality and with more expertise than the sources make possible for historians of the thirteenth century. The relative paucity of surviving private records from the thirteenth century compared to later periods forces historians to rely to a greater extent on government records and particularly on records relating to the military services provided by magnates and their followers. Consequently, for the reign of Edward I it is possible to piece together a better, if still only partial, picture of who formed the military retinues of the great lords of England than it is feasible to do for their peacetime followings. Given that the relationship between captain and retinue member has been described by Anne Curry as providing ‘the basic social and administrative structure of the army’, it will be useful to have a close insight into that relationship at the earliest point the sources allow – the wars of Edward I. The article will be based largely around the retinues of Edward I’s earls and particularly those of the earls of Lincoln, Lancaster and Warenne for whom the evidence is most plentiful.

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